Mika Vainio, Experimental Electronic Artist, Formerly of Pan Sonic Duo

What’s In My Bag? at Amoeba Music – Watch on YouTube

I usually try to feature a video of the musician performing, I made an exception in this case. In this video produced by Amoeba Music in Hollywood, I think it’s fascinating to see what music Vainio was interested in, from blues to experimental bands to avant-garde composers.

Vainio was  Finnish electronic and experimental artist, who composed and performed in the duo Pan Sonic (known as Pansonic before 1998) before moving on to solo projects as ø and later, under his own name.

Music writers Sean Cooper and Andy Kellman sum up the duo this way: “Pursuing the jagged edges of minimal and hardcore techno, Pan Sonic earned an enduring association with industrial and noise music through their incorporation of antiseptic production techniques and power-tool electronics.”

Interview on Brainwashed.com – Watch on YouTube

Pauline Oliveros, Composer Who Promoted “Deep Listening”

“The Difference Between Hearing and Listening” at TEDxIndianapolis–Watch on YouTube

I was in the shower this morning and took some time to take in the sounds: the hum of the water in the pipe, the spray of the showerhead and percussive clap of droplets hitting the tile floor.

I suppose I was practicing a form of “deep listening,” the practice and philosophy developed by sonic experimentalist Pauline Oliveros over the course of her long musical career.

As a child in Houston, Oliveros (May 30, 1932-November 24, 2016) was keenly aware of the sound of her surroundings: crickets, frogs, mocking birds. When she headed to San Francisco in 1952 to study music, she took this attentiveness with her and applied it to the emerging art of electronic music.

Her breakthrough piece was “Bye Bye Butterfly,” a composition built off of a recorded sample of Verdi’s Madame Butterfly and modified dramatically through the use of oscillators, tape delays and other effects. In an excellent post on frieze.com, critic and journalist Geeta Dayal quotes Oliveros as saying the piece “bids farewell  not only to the music of the 19th century but also to the system of polite morality of that age and to its attendant oppression of the female sex.”

Oliveros’s ideas on deep listening formed the basis of a book, Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice,  and a band, The Deep Listening Band, which she formed with Stuart Dempster and Panaiotis after they recorded in an underground cistern in Washington state.

“Bye Bye Butterfly” on Spotify

Jean-Jacques Perrey, Popularizer of Electronic Music

Jean-Jacques Perrey on I’ve Got A Secret–Watch on YouTube

Jean-Jacques Perrey (January 20, 1929-November 4, 2016) was a music prodigy whose fascination with science fiction and new technology led him to electronic music in some of its most nascent forms.

When he met Georges Jenny, the inventor of the Ondioline, a kind of proto-synthesizer, he quit medical school and became a sales representative for the instrument. Using vacuum tube circuitry, the Ondioline had slider switches, which, when positioned in different configurations, could mimic the tone of almost any instrument. Its keyboard was suspended on springs, so that it could achieve a natural vibrato, as one hears on a violin.

Perrey made his way to the U.S. in the 1960s and contributed sounds to the commercial and entertainment industries. (As a sign of his mainstream acceptance, his music has been used in Disneyland and on “The Simpsons.”) As electronics became more sophisticated, Perrey moved from the Ondioline to the Moog. He often teamed up with American composer Gershon Kingsley, and the duo’s albums have provided inspiration to  groups such as Stereolab, the Beastie Boys and hip-hop producer Timbaland.

“E.V.A.” from Moog Indigo on Spotify

Issa Bagayogo, Fused Traditional African Sounds with Modern Dance Beats

Live at Roots & Routes, 2003

Issa Bagayogo (1961-October 10, 2016) played an ancient African instrument, the kamele n’goni, also known as the “hunter’s harp.” It is a 6-stringed instrument that is plucked like a banjo or guitar and is commonly used to accompany traditional vocals.

Bagayogo’s international breakthrough came in 1998, with the release of his album Sya on the Six Degrees Records label. Teaming up with French  keyboardist Yves Wernert, Bagayogo paired the n’goni with loops, samples and lyrics dealing with current topics like drugs, AIDS and cultural pride. Suddenly, the ancient rhythms of Africa were transformed into topical techno dance beats. It earned him the nickname “Techno Issa.”

The New York Times Jon Pareles noted similarities between African music and electronica in a 2002 review of Bagayogo: “Both use pattern and repetition to get people moving; both are willing to assimilate whatever comes along.”

“Diarabi” on Spotify


Rob Meurer, Keyboardist and Collaborator with Christopher Cross

“Ride Like The Wind” on The Midnight Special–Watch on YouTube

I was driving in the country last weekend, when “Ride Like The Wind,” the Christopher Cross song from his Grammy-winning debut album, came on SiriusXM’s “mellow rock” channel, The Bridge. Several days later, I had a second Cross encounter, as he gave tribute to his former bandmate Rob Meurer, who was tragically killed in a hit-and-run accident.

Meurer (d. September 24, 2016), a fellow San Antonian, recorded and toured with Cross during the artist’s peak period in the early 80s. On his own website, Meurer states that he co-wrote over 50 songs with Cross and lists titles that made it on to six different Cross albums.

Besides Cross, Meurer toured with J.D. Souther and Karla Bonoff. He was a regular at Amigo Studios in LA and recorded tracks there with Carole King,  Johnny Otis and a demo of “Ave Maria” for The Neville Brothers. A fan of musical theater, Meurer was associated with the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop and was lyricist for a recent musical, Helldrivers of Daytona.

“Ave Maria” from A Synth For Christmas on Spotify